The first one now, will be later be last? Photo:Getty
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Forget Labour and the SNP - it's Cameron's coalition that is unpopular

The arguments about popular support are a smokescreen. It's Cameron's bloc, backed by Ukip and the DUP, that is the most unpopular.

If David Cameron ends up as Prime Minister after the General Election it will likely be at the helm of one of the most unpopular governments ever. A recent YouGov poll  shows that David Cameron’s most likely route to power is also the route most hated by the public. Two thirds of voters are opposed to a Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Ukip and DUP grouping, which looks like the only road David Cameron has left to achieving a majority in the House of Commons.

As the election results come in early on Friday morning, Tory and Labour strategists won’t just be tallying up their own seats. There will also be boards in their offices for potential partners, where they will be pinning up the constituencies controlled by parties that might be persuaded to vote through their Queen’s speech.

The polls have been deadlocked for months. No matter what they call it – a coalition, confidence and supply or informal deal – any potential Prime Minister will need the votes of other parties to pass a Queen’s speech, even if they then go on to govern with a minority in the House of Commons. And it looks like the only way David Cameron can come close to getting a majority of the House will be if together the Tories, Lib Dems, Ukip and DUP can get the 323 seats they need to pass a Queen’s speech.

But to make Cameron’s unlikely cabal come together, not only will the parties all have to outperform current predictions (YouGov’s prediction today puts them at a combined 320 seats, three short of a working majority) but they will have to go directly against the grain of public opinion. Of all of the different groupings polled by YouGov, the grouping most likely to keep David Cameron in Downing Street is the least popular, with an approval rating of minus 49.

To put this into perspective, this potential governing group has less support than Jim Callaghan’s government did in December 1976, when he was forced to deliver a Greek-style package of public spending cuts in return for an International Monetary Fund bailout. It is also considerably more unpopular than a Labour and SNP grouping, which comes in with a net approval rating of minus 37.

This public verdict is a disaster for David Cameron, who has been leading a Conservative Party offensive on what a ‘coalition of chaos’ involving Labour and the SNP might mean for Britain. The reality is that the British public are more worried about what Cameron’s cabal could do to the country.

It will not be long after the polls close on Thursday evening before rhetoric from party spokespeople changes from “still hoping for a majority” to “getting the best deal for the British public”. And let’s be honest, today’s polls show that no deal will be popular. But one thing is for sure – a Cameron-led cabal of Tories, Ukip, Lib Dems, and the DUP won’t just have a tough time agreeing amongst themselves, they will face a far tougher time from the British public. Bringing such a grouping together will be the very last thing the public wants.

 

Cameron Tait is Senior Researcher at the Fabian Society. He tweets at @cameronrjtait.

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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.